City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

EIF 2017: Chiaroscuro Quartet, Queen's Hall, Review

By Barbara Bryan - Posted on 18 August 2017

Chiaroscuro Quartet - Agnese Blaubarde
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Queen's Hall
Chiaroscuro Quartet
Running time: 
Edinburgh International Festival
Alina Ibraginova (violin) Pablo Hernan Benedi (second violin) Emilie Hornlund (voila) Claire Thirion (cello)

The programme changes every day at the Queens Hall during the International Festival period, but all concerts involve chamber music. This morning it was the Chiaroscuro Quartet. An international quartet whose musicians comprise Alina Ibraginova, violin, from Russia; Pablo Hernan Benedi, second violin, from Spain; Emilie Hornlund, voila, from Sweden and Claire Thirion, cello, from France – they were formed in 2005.

The Chiaroscuro Quartet specialise in classical and early Romantic music and began their programme with three contrapunctus’- I, IV and IX - from Johann Sebastian Bach’s The Art of Fugue – a collection of 4 canons and 14 fugues in four voices. Written towards the end of his life the string quartet genre was considered to be avant garde and its popularity gathered momentum after this period. The quartet play on gut strings (the type used on Baroque violins), prefer to use historical bows and, apart from the cello, perform standing. What an impressive ensemble sound they create playing with such precision and attention to detail with regard to the variations of tone. And they illustrated their talented musical skills when they played contrapunctus IX at a terrific pace.

Haydn’s String Quartet in E flat major was their next choice. Haydn was composing prolifically during the years 1796/7, including a set of quartets. A friend of Haydn’s was so impressed by these compositions he commented: “they are full of invention, fire, good taste and new effects.” The balance of the musicians, particularly in the second movement, was excellent. The only disadvantage of playing on gut strings is that they go out of tune more readily than modern ones which meant the musicians had to retune their instruments at the end of each movement. However, their interpretation of this adventurous string quartet was excellent.

The final composition on the programme was Schubert’s Quartet in D minor ‘Death and the Maiden.’ Published posthumously, this quartet was written at a time Schubert knew he was dying of syphilis. He died aged 31. Although written in a melancholic minor key, the first movement is predominantly strident but concludes on a reflective note. There was a lofty cello solo in the second movement, played beautifully by Claire Thirion, a short third movement and an inspiring third movement played at a great speed and with great panache. All in all, it was a marvellous performance by this group of talented musicians.